An exhaustive search having turned up nothing, two-year-old Steven Martin is presumed to have perished in a fire that destroyed a barn on his family’s St. Jacobs farm July 12.The Ontario Fire Marshall’s office called off the search Monday, wrapping up their onsite investigation of the blaze at 1636 Lobsinger Line. Fire investigator Greg Olson concluded the boy’s body was completely consumed by the extremely hot fire.
“The problem with the layout of the barn is you have a large amount of straw, a large amount of hay and you have a metal roof. Once that fire gets going inside the hay mound it can’t ventilate properly. What happens is the fire keeps propagating inside and basically becomes a crematorium, it burns that hot,” he said Monday.
Olson’s remarks came during the last update from the scene, which saw township fire crews first respond shortly after 7 p.m. on the previous Friday.
“When our units first got on scene the whole barn was on fire and the family was frantically looking for a two-year-old boy. We searched the whole property with police, and probably a few hundred neighbours came out to help,” explained Woolwich deputy fire chief Dale Martin that evening.
The search for Steven Martin and his golden retriever – the two were said to be inseparable – continued Saturday morning. The child had been seen playing in a hay mound in the past, according to information provided by the family. It was not uncommon for him to climb into the hay mound, and prior to the fire he was seen playing with the dog near the barn.
Neighbours who volunteered for the search estimated the distance that a two-year-old could travel from the farm property and then they overcompensated for that distance and searched farther, Olson said. Meanwhile, firefighters searched the barn in vain. They removed the tin roof and excavated the structure’s remains, with searchers working 15-minute shifts in the scorching environment. Damage was so extensive that the main floor had burned through and collapsed into the basement portion of the dairy barn.
“We have absolutely no human remains that have been located. But not finding anything to do with the missing child, our search will be suspended. I have members of the Waterloo Regional Police with me here and we’ve discussed the options,” the marshal said in a final press conference.
Investigators speculate that spontaneous combustion of hay dampened by recent rain may have caused the fire. The other hypothesis is an electrical malfunction in the barn.
“If we can’t eliminate either one, then it’s probably going to come down to an undetermined fire. The problem with so much destruction is that a lot of the electrical was consumed in the fire,” said Olson.
The remains of two horses and 12 dairy cattle were found while sorting through the aftermath of the blaze that caused an estimated $400,000 damage. Smoke from the fire could be seen for kilometers, and the structure smoldered well into the next week, with St. Jacobs firefighters called out Tuesday afternoon to smother some hot spots.
The boy’s family was on-scene every day during the investigation Olson, added. A family member told Olson earlier in the week they supported his decision to terminate the search.